I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how power works within Christianity. What I think the perception is, and probably rightly so, is that the Christian faith is headed up by the patriarchy, old white men who try to keep people down and submissive, voting conservatively, marrying young, and tithing generously. The rest of the world follows power structures where the person at the top of a company or government gets most of the benefits, so it makes sense that the church would be yet another one of those places.
And that’s an assumption that holds up in many churches, or even in many Christian households. We’ve all heard that the husband is the head of the household, the breadwinner, while the wife is to “submit” and take care of the home. This presents itself in less aggressive ways as well, through discussions of “biblical manhood and womanhood,” where men and women have uniquely, divinely designed roles, ones that seem to always give men a subtle advantage. Men can preach, lead a church, control finances. We are “compassionate,” or something.
And all of this points to power as a desirable thing. We want promotions and enjoy the public recognition of our hard work, validation that gives us an edge over others. In the comparison games we play, we can now hold ourselves up to others and say that we’ve got them beat. The world rewards hard work, selling tank tops in Target that say “Work Hard, Play Hard” and favoring those who possess aggressive character traits.
But what is making me love the gospel all over again, and consequently the God who brought it about, is the way power is actually supposed to work in God’s world. In discussing today with middle school camp counselors the answers to some small group questions, we looked at why it’s significant that Jesus is the “Lamb of God.”
It’s an answer that I know, can easily recite off: Jesus was a sacrifice, he’s gentle like a lamb, whatever. But what the image of a lamb does is show that God’s great tool to save the world and to defeat death was not some great tool at all. God did not have his angels grab their muskets, and he does not ask us to do the same. He asks us to give up the power that we cling to over and over again.
The gospel narrative is over and over again one of giving up the upper hand.
This was not the slaying of some beast, God’s powerful triumph over the great forces of death. This was the truest expression of love: laying down its power. Even if the story of Jesus was purely a made-up story — even if the resurrection didn’t happen, even if once we die we become dust and nothing more — this type of love is one I want to know, to live out. Not games of power grabs and upper hands, of screenshotted texts and jealousy, but love that would give up the need to be right. Easy to mistake fear of rejection or abandonment as love, easy to think that affirmation is love received.
I wander often, forget constantly, and think nearly every day that I am strong enough to withstand life on my own. I spent the past month in a slump I couldn’t kick, feeling low like I haven’t in years and thinking on most days that “it’ll be over soon, just wait it out.” But I forgot that it is God that gives me what I need to be whole, sometimes in the form of medication, or other people, or meeting tangible needs. This time, it was by reminding me of the still depths of his love beneath my troubled seas, the sacrifice given, and the hope that lies ahead. Amen.